The 16th of March 2013, a day most Irish rugby fans have wiped from their memory as they finished their Six Nations championship in fifth place but exactly six years on and things couldn’t be any more different.
That poor finish was the final straw of Declan Kidney’s coaching reign of the national team. Things looked bleak, a loss to Italy was the lowest point of the tournament, change was needed, and that’s where Joe Schmidt came in.
Following a successful spell in charge of Leinster, during which he won two Heineken Cups, Schmidt decided to test the waters at international level.
There was a sense that something big could happen, but it’s a sense that Ireland felt after winning the 2009 Grand Slam, only to fall from grace and slump to fifth within four years.
When Schmidt took charge of his first Six Nations championship there was optimism but winning the tournament first time was above all expectations. The only loss that year was away to England in a 13-10 defeat.
A thumping Welsh win meant Ireland needed to defeat Scotland by 21 points or more, they won 40-10.
That left England needing a 27-point victory or more over the French to claim the title. A 55-35 cracker of a game handed Ireland back to back Six Nations.
However, the defeat they faced that year came away to this Saturday’s opponents Wales.
In 2016 Ireland finished in third, while in 2017 a second-placed finish included ending England’s 18-game unbeaten run, but again there was a loss to the Welsh in Cardiff.
Last year, Ireland stormed to a Grand Slam, crushing everything in front of them. Leading to a No 2 ranking in the World Rugby standings.
This year has been a different story for the Kiwi and his troops with an opening day demolishing at the hands of England followed by scrappy wins over Scotland and Italy.
On Sunday, Ireland produced one of their best performances of the Schmidt era as they dominated France, keeping them scoreless until the final three minutes.
That win has kept Ireland’s slim hopes of retaining their title alive, albeit needing a win over Wales and a favour from a depleted Scotland against a rampant England.
Another championship would look amazing on Schmidt’s CV, but he has done that before, what he hasn’t done is win a match against the Welsh on their home turf.
This will be his third and final attempt to claim victory in Cardiff. A feat that would complete his CV and he is well aware of it.
“Yeah, it would be nice to tick it off,” he said when asked about the possibility of a win over the men in red.
Under Schmidt Ireland have developed into one of the best, if not the best team in the world, he has kept them in touching distance of the Six Nations in each of his campaigns.
It’s remarkable to consider.
He has been the man at the wheel behind every new record for the Irish in recent years and will go down as possibly the greatest Irish coach ever and will have hopes for more records at the World Cup later this year.
However, as he prepares to say goodbye to the Six Nations, exactly six years on from Ireland’s fifth-place finish, it would be fitting for Schmidt to leave Cardiff with the full-house of wins and who knows maybe even a fourth championship title to conclude the fairy-tale.
Official. Eddie Jones signs new England Deal.
England men’s head coach Eddie Jones and the RFU have agreed a contract extension which will see him continue his role until the end of the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.
Jones joined England Rugby at the end of 2015 and has coached the men’s national side on 54 occasions winning 42, drawing one and losing 11 – giving him a win ratio of 78%, the highest in the history of England coaches.
Under Jones, England has won two Six Nations titles including a Grand Slam in 2016, a 3-0 away Test series win against Australia in the same year, an unbeaten run of 18 matches equalling New Zealand’s record and were finalists at last year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Jones said: “The extension is a great honour for me, but in the current environment, it is only right to acknowledge what a difficult time the world is facing. We are all looking forward to a time when we can get back to playing rugby and use the sport as a force for good in bringing people back together. I never thought coming here four years ago I would be doing a second four years but the circumstances are right. Obviously it is important for the team that we keep improving and my focus will be solely on that.
“I am excited about raising the standards again. We have a great team. We set out four years ago to be the best team in the world and unfortunately we missed that by 80 minutes. Now we want to be the team that is remembered as being the greatest team the game has ever seen. It’s a big ambition but I believe we are capable of doing it. We have players with an enhanced reputation, we have a team that is expected to do well, so it’s a great opportunity for us to keep moving forward.”
Bill Sweeney, RFU CEO said: “My thoughts and those of all of us at the RFU are with everyone impacted by COVID-19, both across the country at large but also within our own rugby union community. In exceptionally difficult times, we are pleased to be sharing some good news. We are delighted that Eddie will continue as head coach to run England’s campaign to take us to the 2023 Rugby World Cup. His record since joining speaks for itself and he has proven why he is one of the best coaches in world rugby. The progress shown by England since 2015 has been indisputable and having fielded the youngest-ever team to play in a World Cup final, we know even more growth is possible. We are all excited by what this squad can do and having Eddie leading the team is very important to us.
“We reached an understanding soon after returning from Japan but there were some things that we wanted to make sure worked for both sides. We have announced Eddie’s contract extension a few weeks later than planned as our focus was diverted to support the English rugby community during this difficult time, we are now turning our attention to developing plans to support the rebooting of rugby and a winning England team will provide a vital role in that.”
Ahead of the Guinness Six Nations Jones confirmed Simon Amor and Matt Proudfoot would join Steve Borthwick and John Mitchell as his assistant coaches. Jason Ryles will join later in the year as skills coach following Borthwick’s departure towards the end of the season.
RFU CEO gives COVID-19 planning & support update
Bill Sweeney – RFU, CEO
My thoughts and those of all of us at the RFU continue to be with everyone impacted by the difficult and exceptional situation we are all facing, both across the country and within our own rugby union community.
Earlier today we held a virtual board meeting and I am writing to advise you of the actions that have been agreed to offer a support package directly funded from the RFU worth £7m to provide support for community clubs in England.
To support clubs we are today announcing that the RFU will be providing a £7m relief package for community clubs. The package includes monies ring fenced and diverted for the community game as well as additional funding. These measures include:
• An early release of £800,000 cash due to clubs through the ticketing fund.
• Early release of final funding payments (£600,000) to Constituent Bodies and suspension of the activity plans against which this was allocated, enabling them to utilise this to provide “immediate support grants” to clubs most in need. In addition £400,000 will be made available to Constituent Bodies who elect to match fund from their own reserves.
• A suspension of the Quarterly loan repayments for clubs with outstanding loans due in March (£335,000).
• The creation of a £5m support loans programme, offering loans of between circa £2k and circa £10k to clubs, with deferred re-payments for six months and repayable over three years.
We will be providing more details on this financial package in the coming week. We will also be issuing regular club recovery updates with practical advice on how government grants can be accessed as well as other business management advice.
We welcome government interventions which will provide business rate holidays and grants for clubs.
The RFU will continue to provide a free helpline to assist clubs with legal and tax related matters: https://www.englandrugby.com/participation/running-your-club/legal-and-administration
Significant progress has been made on the process for considering the implications of ending the season early. We will ensure a fair and balanced outcome for the game and are now committed to update on this by the middle of April.
No one can predict every possible outcome of the COVID-19 outbreak particularly with regard to the duration of this crisis and we are managing in the unknown. We have modelled three potential scenarios and are working on an assumption based on a medium term impact with a view to a return to rugby in the autumn. We will continue to monitor against this assumption and review and revise planning where necessary.
The RFU had budgeted for a loss making year within a four year cycle due to the costs of the 2019 RWC campaign and hosting only two home Six Nations games. The loss will now be considerably more as we face challenges similar to businesses across the country.
The RFU’s biggest asset is also a major cost and the closure of Twickenham Stadium has a significant impact on the revenues we can generate to re-invest back into the game. In that sense we are like every other club in the Union, when we do not stage matches and events we do not generate revenue.
Based on our planning assumption we estimate RFU revenue losses over the next 18 months to be approximately £45-£50 million and have a firm plan in place to mitigate this. The RFU Executive Team will be taking a cut in remuneration in excess of 25%. In addition, combined Board fees will be reduced by 75%.
We are continuing our support to ensure colleagues and communities are given help to follow government advice and are providing recommendations on how to stay fit and healthy and a range of new content will be made available to players and fans across our social media channels.
We are discussing with government and the NHS the role the RFU and Twickenham Stadium can play in providing volunteers as well as support for the NHS including accommodation, parking and meal provisioning.
I am confident that rugby will play a big role in energising communities across England after this difficult period. In the meantime, we are working hard with the wider rugby community to take the necessary measures to safeguard a financially resilient Union so that we can.
Rodney Parade to help in fight against coronavirus
Rodney Parade has become the latest sporting venue to open its doors to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
The Newport stadium has been provided free of charge as a base for front-line NHS staff to check if they have the virus and are able to continue working. At this stage only NHS staff are eligible to be tested at Rodney Parade to see if they have COVID-19. Dragons managing director Mark Jones said: “The health service and care workers are doing an incredible job in such difficult circumstances so we are happy to offer our help and support in any way we can.
“Playing our part in the local community is at the heart of what we’re about at the Dragons and in times of crisis people stick together. We would urge everyone to follow the latest NHS advice on protecting themselves from the virus, particularly to stay at home and avoid unnecessary travel.”
A statement from Aneurin Bevan Health Board read: “The health and wellbeing of our staff is essential for delivering services for the people of Gwent. It is fundamental during this time when the most vulnerable people need us most.
“We have set up a drive-through facility to test staff for the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and help us get our teams back in to work on the front line. The testing site is located at Rodney Parade in Newport and we ask that everyone practises the stay-at-home guidance and does not visit the site.
“Everyone at Aneurin Bevan University Health Board would like to thank the team at Rodney Parade for their community-focused approach and accommodating us during these difficult times.”